The Future of Kodak Prosper: drupa, UltraStream, and New Ownership

Jim Hamilton
May 19, 2016

In April, Kodak held an inkjet-focused briefing in Dayton, Ohio to update industry analysts on their current status, new developments, and drupa 2016 plans. The event provided an excellent opportunity to get an up-close look at Kodak’s inkjet offerings, including some technology demonstrations that will be highlighted at drupa 2016 (May 31st to June 10th in Dusseldorf, Germany).

It’s an important time for Kodak’s Dayton-based Enterprise Inkjet Systems Division. drupa 2016 is fast approaching, and the division has big plans there. The next generation of Stream head technology (UltraStream) will also be on display as a technology demonstration. Perhaps most importantly, Kodak’s board has announced that the Enterprise Inkjet business, including the Prosper Press Platform, the S Series Imprinting Systems, and related products are for sale.

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Kodak, with a sizeable booth in Hall 5, will be the fifth largest exhibitor at drupa. From an inkjet perspective, Kodak plans to showcase five product and technology demonstrations. They call these their “Hero” products. These include:

  1. The first public UltraStream technology demonstration: UltraStream print heads are capable of speeds up to 500 feet per minute (150 meters per minute) at 600 by 1,800 dot-per-inch resolution, firing more than 400,000 drops per second per nozzle. At drupa 2016 Kodak will be displaying UltraStream in a four-color, 8-inch configuration on a narrow-web press designed for label and small format printing. This will allow for the showcase of the smaller ink drop sizes possible with UltraStream. Kodak says that UltraStream will be offered through OEM partners and that the availability of the first UltraStream-based products are expected to happen in 2019.
  2. A European-style loft made out of inkjet-printed décor materials: A large section of Kodak’s urban revival themed booth at Drupa 2016 is going to be created entirely out of inkjet-printed materials. Kodak’s Inkjet Loft is a fully-functional European loft, constructed from Prosper inkjet-printed materials. Laminate flooring, countertops, and cupboards will all be printed on one of Kodak’s large-array inkjet test beds. Currently under development, the test bed shown here is one way Kodak is looking to bring Stream into the industrial and home décor markets. In its current form the device has a 49-inch array that could be extended to 62 inches, which is a more typical print width for laminates.
  3. A seven-color plus varnish flexible packaging demonstration using inkjet: Part of the Packaging Hub section of Kodak’s drupa booth will be devoted to live demonstrations of their XGV (extended gamut and varnish) technology. A narrow-web configuration using multiple Kodak Prosper S Series Imprinting heads will be printing on pre-treated flexible films. This device will be capable of printing process color (CMYK) plus orange, green and violet water-based inks to match a broader spectrum of Pantone colors used in label and package printing. The demonstration will also include an additional station printing a water-based digital varnish. Kodak says that the varnish is compliant with indirect food contact regulations and works on both coated papers and plastic films.
  4. A Prosper 6000C system running with two in-line finishing modes: An entire side of Kodak’s 2,500 square meter booth will be occupied by a Prosper 6000C system that will run throughout the show. The 6000C will print posters, magazines, and catalogs on lightweight coated paper, with two in-line finishing solutions: a manroland web systems FoldLine combined with an i-WEB post coater and a VITS multi-cut variable servo sheeter. The Prosper 6000C, capable of some of the fastest inkjet speeds, will be running at 1,000 feet per minute (300 meters per minute). The system will also be integrated with a MEGTEC automatic roll splicer.
  5. A simplex 6000 integrated into a manroland web offset press with a digital finishing line: Kodak will be represented in manroland’s booth (Hall 14) in the form of an integrated simplex version of the Prosper 6000. This unit will be running in-line with a manroland commercial web offset press. It will take a wide web, from the offset press, split the ribbon, printing full width digital color on one half of the split web. The web will then be married back together into the web offset folder. The first application shown will be retail inserts with custom four-page color sections printed by the Prosper 6000.
Kodak UltraStream technology demonstration

Kodak UltraStream technology demonstration

In regard to the sale of Kodak’s Enterprise Inkjet group, this is the division responsible for the Prosper and Versamark product portfolios. Kodak has said that the Prosper and Versamark components could go separate ways depending on the requirements of the purchaser. (Kodak gave no indication of which companies might be in the running.) Kodak Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Clarke suggested that a company with a larger sales and distribution footprint in digital printing markets would be better suited to help Prosper achieve its economic potential. Therefore the next owner is likely to be a strategic one rather than a group of financial investors. The inkjet operation in Dayton, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding in 2017, has switched ownership on multiple occasions, first being owned by Mead Corporation, then Eastman Kodak, then Scitex Corporation, and then Kodak again. A new owner could appear at any moment.

InfoTrends’ Opinion

Kodak will be an interesting company to watch at drupa for a variety of reasons, not the least of which will be the potential that the Prosper inkjet group could be purchased prior to (or at) the show. From a technology perspective, the announcement of UltraStream holds a lot of potential, but keep in mind that commercial implementation are not expected until 2019. More imminent developments will be seen around the Prosper 6000 series as well as the range of packaging and industrial applications built off of the current Stream head technology. These are the core of Kodak’s inkjet future for the next few years.

Note: This blog draws on a longer analysis piece that InfoTrends published recently for clients of its On Demand Printing & Publishing advisory service and other production print hardware consulting services including Wide Format, Functional and Industrial Printing, and Color Digital Label & Packaging.

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